Bahrain hosts global meet on freedom of religion, belief

A conference on promoting humanitarian cooperation on the principles of pluralism and diversity to enhance respect for freedom of religion and belief at the regional and global levels opened in Manama.


The first EU-Bahrain Conference on freedom of religion and belief is under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Themed ‘Broadening the Tent: Freedom of Religion and Belief” the three-day event is being organised by the Kingdom of Bahrain in cooperation with the European Union.


The exhibition, which is being held on the sidelines of the conference, was inaugurated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Abdullatif Al Zayani in presence of officials and head of various institutions as well as diplomats and several civil society institutions.


Founder and Chairman of “This is Bahrain” and First Deputy Chairman of King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence, Betsy Mathieson, in her remarks thanked HM the King for his patronage for the event.


She also thanked His Royal Highness, Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa for his outstanding support and inspirational guidance and for the dedicated support.


It is astonishing that many places of worships were not just the first to be established in Bahrain but were the first to be established in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula, she said.


“I wondered why Bahrain was so far advanced compared to other countries in the region, in already granting Freedom of Religion and Belief to citizens and residents over 200 years ago. The answer I discovered was due to the Ruling Al Khalifa family, who welcomed all to these shores and recognised the vital importance of the right to freedom of religion and belief for all.”


She said that Bahrainis and expatriates alike were enjoying the right to freedom of religion and belief, over 150 years before the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights addressed this in Article 18.


“Today, His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, passionately and sincerely continues the historic commitment of his noble ancestors to religious freedom and this right is enshrined in the constitution of Bahrain.”


Mathieson said: “Today we live in a world where terrorists and extremists use religion for their evil intent. There is a global increase in religiously motivated hate crimes with the internet being used to radicalize and sow the seeds of hate and violence. While we may be fortunate enough to be able to worship freely, there are many who are not so fortunate.


“Statistics reveal that up to 80% of the worlds’ population live in areas where religious freedom is either denied or severely restricted. With the world population at 7.8 billion, this means that over 6.2 billion people’s lives are not blessed with Freedom of Religion and Belief.”


She said that HM the King was so moved by these statistics that he authored a document called “The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration” launched in 2017, calling for religious freedom for all peoples of the world. The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration has been embraced globally as one of the most universally important declarations of our time.


She added that Bahrain and the 27 countries of the European Union may geographically be thousands of miles apart and at first glance seem so vastly different politically, culturally, and linguistically.


“We may live on separate continents, speak different languages, dress differently and appear to have different societal values and priorities. Our differences are to be respected, embraced, and further explored to remove the ignorance that may cause division. But what of our shared values, beliefs, hopes, and dreams? They are more similar and more obvious than we might think.”


“Our shared beliefs in human dignity, to provide for the needs of the more vulnerable members of society, to enjoy the right to worship freely and safely and to live together in peaceful coexistence, in the spirit of mutual respect and love, are also to be acknowledged and strengthened.”


Mathieson added: “It is my firm belief that ‘there is more that unites us than divides us’, that our diversity is to be celebrated and that as we come together in the Kingdom of Bahrain for the First EU-Bahrain Conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief  our similarities will surprise and delight us and strengthen not only our joint resolve to uphold FORB for all, but to forge sincere friendships, partnerships and  joint youth empowerment projects to allow us to reach greater depths of mutual understanding and respect and move forward together in our noble efforts for the good of Humankind.”


Undersecretary of the Health Ministry, Dr Waleed Al Manea, said that the event today highlights an added value event because it talks about the humanitarian aspects.


“Today we are talking about freedom - freedom for religion, to talk and to think. If I may use the example of COVID-19 which is very negatively thought about everywhere, but there is advantage of COVID-19 that we as humans all over the world, we became very unified in combating this pandemic,” he said.


Dr Al Manea said: When speaking about this pandemic in the Kingdom of Bahrain, we are very proud of all our achievements. We achieved a lot in terms of vaccination, where we are among the top three in the world for having most coverage - 85% and 92 or 93% over three years.


He said that not only just that, but also for the booster, fourth dose, treatment, diagnosis, rehabilitation, vaccination, prevention, the campaign awareness… All of these was also done equally without any discrimination in the Kingdom of Bahrain.


“The entire treatment was free of charge totally, even if someone needed to be treated in the Intensive Care Unit, it was all free of charge. And by numbers one can see our vaccination doses were distributed equally with the choice of 50% are non-Bahrainis.”


Dr Al Manea said that equal treatment was given to all for the admissions for treatment in the hospital.


EU Ambassador to Bahrain, Patrick Simonnet, said that this high-level conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief is organised in the framework of the annual dialogue between the EU and the Kingdom of Bahrain.


“It is aiming at reinforcing mutual understanding and cooperation in the field, while allowing experts from both sides, like the ones participating in this conference, to exchange views and open paths for an even more substantial engagement,” he said.


“The issues of peaceful co-existence which is at the core of the vision of King Hamad for the future of Bahrain and the GCC, is closely connected to the question of freedom of religion and belief, a theme that the EU and Bahrain have been consistently promoting for decades.”


Simonnet said: “This is creating a space for further cooperation in the broader context of the EU Bahrain relations. This high-level conference is a pilot, a first step in concretising this cooperation in mutual understanding and we hope that there will be many other steps, not only with follow-up conferences, but also in practical activities of exchanges between the people of Bahrain and EU countries.


He expressed his happiness over the event taking place in Bahrain, which has been a pioneer and a role model of co-existence and social freedoms in the region.


“We are deeply appreciative of this vision of Bahrain, and it make us optimistic that peace and security can prevail in the region. The courageous decision of His Majesty the King to agree on the Abraham Accords is a testimony of this.”


He added: “This is an event in a long series of activities we launched last March, before Ramadan and we have continued after the Eid holidays, working closely with our member states. These included roundtable discussions, events in cooperation with universities, a programme for enabling pioneer young Bahrainis, the celebration of the Europe's Day with the concert of a French pianist and only last night the conclusion of our first ever European Film Nights event in Manama.”


The European Union will only get more active as we cherish our partnership with Bahrain, and we want to enhance this multifaceted and value driven dialogue between the people of Europe and Bahrain, he added. 




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